PR Niblets

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy "Elite" New Year

It's January 1, 2010 and I'm just back from my annual ritual -- the "mileage run." I didn't really yearn for Texas in December. Cancun was guaranteed hotter.... but not enough miles. Chicago had more to do and better food to eat... but it also fell short. San Antonio, at 4,700 miles roundtrip, was just right.

For those in the know, and nodding your heads with understanding if not compassion, this is the time of year when the airlines judge whether we frequent fliers have been good or naughty. Have we been faithful to our airline alliance and racked up the prerequisite points or mileage legs? Or have we cheated by taking seductive fares and turning our backs on our chosen partner? Or do we lead double lives and manage multiple alliances and try to manage all these relationships by giving each "just enough" without appearing duplicitous to our chosen airline programs?

This year's air adventures (business and family flights) took me to Stuttgart in April (business class/double mile bonus); Columbia and Charleston, S.C. in August (Alex's college run); Lisbon and Milan in October (another bonus flight) and San Diego in November (PRSA international conference where I spoke).

Heading into December, I was 5,600 miles short of the qualifying 50,000 miles to protect my gold elite status for the New Year. Already filled with angst about my illicit Jet Blue flight to The Bahamas with my son in August, I was thankful for a planned new business trip to Pittsburgh in mid-month which added 1,000 miles to my account. It left a 4,600 mile gap and threatened to downgrade me into becoming a lowly “silver” (the minimum elite rung) and not the coveted “gold” rank I currently held (or platinum -- the true holy grail). This sealed the deal for my wife and I to visit and “Remember the Alamo.”

And to what end? Elite status means choice seat selection including extra legroom seats, bulkheads and exit rows. It means no charge for checked or overweight baggage -- a meaningful perk these days as the airlines nickel and dime passengers for all service components once considered free.

Being elite also means that during the second round of boarding announcements, we get to walk the blue elite carpet to our seats -- past the scornful and envious eyes of regular passengers waiting to board the aircraft. The trek on board is less frenzied with a choice of overhead bins for the laptop, batteries, cables, DVDs and noise cancellation headphones we working passengers bring on board. It also means a fighting chance for the few remaining pillows and blankets (where they still are offered).

Most importantly, elite status means automatic upgrades – even for a traveling family member or colleague -- when space up-front permits. This is one serious perk!

That final trip, with a return home of December 30 (and little margin for error) in full fare economy, yielded a precious 2,353 elite qualifying miles each way -- enough to solidify my stature as a Continental Star Alliance gold for 2010. I returned to work on New Year’s Eve Day fulfilled in my year-long mission and proud of my newly won status.

As I await my new credentials for 2010, I take solace in the fact that my perks will continue for 12 more months. But I have this nagging little concern that it’s now one day closer to the 2011 deadline and I still have zero miles accumulated for silver, gold or platinum. Meet up in Hawaii, anyone?

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